Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Black Stallion's Courage

The racehorse Alysheba, winner of the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, has been euthanized at the age of 25 following a fall in his stall. The retired champion had been returned to American only recently, having spent much of his stud career in Saudi Arabia. The stallion was living at the Kentucky Horse Park (a facility which hosts large equestrian events year-round and is set to be the site of the 2010 World Equestrian Games) where fans could visit him at the public Hall of Champions.

In honor of all the Thoroughbreds - including fellow Derby winner Lil E. Tee, who was euthanized this month after suffering complications from stomach surgery - here's a racing story from Walter Farley, the single best writer to tackle the difficult task of making the tough, often harsh world of horse racing accessible to children.

The Black Stallion's Courage
Walter Farley
1956, Random House

Suddenly the ceiling directly above them exploded and slender bits of flame fell at Alec's feet, igniting the straw. He and the mare leaped as one through the stall door and into the corridor.

A fire claims Hopeful Farm's newest barn and Alec Ramsay, sensing something wrong with Henry's Kentucky Derby winner Black Minx, brings the Black back to racing. Henry is unhappy with the stallion's return from retirement, feeling that his own Black Minx will more than pay for the new barn. But the mercurial filly seems to have become bored with racing after her Derby triumph. As Henry works with Baby, as the filly's known around the track, Alec watches the meteoric rise of the burly brown colt Eclipse and the 3-year-old colt Casey. In a year of unusual quality, three great racehorses meet in a final showdown at the Brooklyn Handicap.

Now there was no past, no other race. Nothing but the one to come, with the three of them in a row, waiting for the door flaps to spring open and set them free.

Farley's style was easy and accessible, despite the fact that so much of his plots depended on specialist language. He had a great knack for making racetrack lingo and horse-speak easily understood and never letting it get in the way of the story. His characters, apart from Alec, were fairly stock, but solid and believable. Alec was a bit unusual as a male hero - he was so quiet, almost withdrawn, non-confrontational, deferential to Henry and pretty much everyone else. He clearly prefers the company of horses, particularly the Black, to that of people, but he never seems awkward with other people. He comes across as a nearly invisible stand-in for the reader, only emerging as an individual on the rare occasion that he disagrees verbally with Henry.

Napoleon - elderly grey gelding
The Black - 17h black stallion
Miz Liz - chestnut mare with blaze
Black Minx - 2-year-old black filly 'Baby'
Wintertime - 2-year-old blood bay colt 'Red'
Eclipse - 2-year-old brown colt with blaze 'Pops'
Golden Vanity - 2-year-old chestnut colt 'Sunny'
Silver Jet - 2-year-old grey colt 'Bud'
Lone Hope
Casey - 5-year-old chestnut stallion
Bold Irishman - sire of Casey
Swat - dam of Casey
Peek-a-Boo - Shetland pony

Other books by Farley
The Black Stallion (1941)
The Black Stallion Returns (1945)
Son Of The Black Stallion (1947)
The Island Stallion (1948)
The Black Stallion And Satan (1949)
The Black Stallion's Blood Bay Colt (1951)
The Island Stallion's Fury (1951)
The Black Stallion's Filly (1952)
The Black Stallion Revolts (1953)
The Black Stallion's Sulky Colt (1954)
The Island Stallion Races (1955)
The Black Stallion Mystery (1957)
The Horse Tamer (1958)
The Black Stallion And Flame (1960)
The Black Stallion Challenged! (1964)
The Black Stallion's Ghost (1969)
The Black Stallion And The Girl (1971)
The Black Stallion Legend (1983)
The Young Black Stallion (1989) (with Steven Farley)
Man O'War (1962)
Little Black, A Pony
Little Black Goes To The Circus
The Little Black Pony Races
Big Black Horse
The Horse That Swam Away
The Great Dane Thor

The Black Stallion Site

In Print?
Yes - Random House

The Black Stallion (1979)
The Black Stallion Returns (1983)

The Adventures Of The Black Stallion (1990-1993)

About the Author
Farley began The Black Stallion while still in high school. A New Yorker, he had a horse trainer for an uncle and spent much of his childhood around horses, including hanging around the Big Apple's three racetracks, a familiarity which resounds in The Black Stallion's Courage. He and his family split their time between a farm in Earlville, PA (about one hour northwest of Philadelphia) and a home in Venice, Florida.

Other Information

Walter Farley Literary Landmark in Venice, Florida

New York Times obituary

Kentucky Horse Park

ESPN Horse Racing - Lil. E. Tee's death

Thoroughbred Times - Alysheba's Death

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